The Story: Based on actual diary accounts of several teenagers following the L.A. riots, Freedom Writers is the story of an idealistic teacher's attempts to make a difference in the lives of her at-risk students. Located in gang-ravaged Long Beach, California, Woodrow Wilson High is a hotbed of violence due to a voluntary integration program which brings Black, Latino, Asian, and White students together. Rather than having the desired effect of creating healthy diversity, this program breeds constant war between all parties involved, the result being daily gun shots, constant racial slurs, and gang violence.Played largely by young unknowns, the freshman class in question is both naive and wise beyond its years. While never having heard of the Holocaust, these kids are well-versed in the pain of poverty, the legal system, and death. Despite being up against unthinkable violence, devoted first-time teacher Erin Gruwell (Hillary Swank) never gives up, slowly bonding with her class of at-first unreachable pupils, breaking down their tough exteriors and getting at the real people beneath through requiring the students keep daily journals. Meanwhile, a strain is put on Erin's marriage as her student involvement gradually takes priority over her personal life. The intensity with which Erin relates to her work threatens her husband (Patrick Dempsey), who in seeing Erin's transformation, is reminded of his own stagnancy. Thanks to a catalogue of films including Stand And Deliver and Dangerous Minds, any film about inspiring teachers risks feeling redundant and preachy. But writer/director Richard Lagravenese manages to put a fresh spin on this already familiar formula thanks to powerful performances by Hillary Swank, Imelda Staunton, and several newcomers. While slightly predictable, Freedom Writers critiques the public education system in an ultimately moving way.
Run Time: 138 minutes